A giant monkey rock, that is how the office of the future might well look like

Sitting kills. RAAAF | Barbara Visser made with their Outstanding Landscape of Affordances a vision on the future of the workplace where the chair and the table are no longer the starting point. Barbara Visser is a visual artist and since 2014 chair of the recently re-established Society of Arts of the Netherlands Royal Academy (KNAW). This new work was commissioned by the Netherlands Chief Government Architect and motivated by a widely shared feeling of dissatisfaction with present-day standardized open spaces for “flex-working” as implemented at the various ministries, municipalities and universities.


Medical research has suggested that constantly sitting at work is bad for you. Even worse, a recent BBC News article noted: “We can’t simply fix it by heading for the gym.” Sitting kills. The BBC-article was titled: “Could offices change from sitting to standing?” Outstanding Landscape of Affordances shows how our offices could invite a more active and healthy life style. RAAAF | Barbara Visser presented an animation of a futuristic landscape of possibilities for working while standing up, a sculpture to be realized by the artists in Amsterdam later this year.


The mute animation ‘Sitting Kills’ shows a large rock-like structure. It is designed out of a thousand different possibilities for working in positions between standing and laying. The key is that the sculpture’s affordances stimulate people to take up different working positions during the day and promotes concentration. The richness of this landscape of affordances gives people the freedom to find the optimal position for their different tasks and needs during the working day. This vision presents a radical break with regular office furniture and current working models such as “flex-working”, which all are still based on sitting. In fact our societies’ entire surroundings are designed for being seated. This is a first step towards a future in which standing at work is the new norm. A lifelong health where we are both physically and mentally active.

This project is is also a next step in visualizing the landscape of affordances, this time focusing on possibities for standing, leaning and hanging provided by the monkey rock-like sculpture. Links to earlier visualizations related to Erik Rietveld’s VIDI-project ‘The Landscape of Affordances’ can be found here.

Designboom’s coverage of the animation can be found here.

See also how Barbara Visser has filmed the tendency towards optimal grip on standing affordances in these making-of movies: 

Update 11/12/14: The Landscape of Standing Affordances has now been built as an enactive art installation, see here.

Graduation show Master Vacant NL reviewed by Tracy Metz

Tracy Metz (the architecture critic of the Netherlands national newspaper NRC Handelsblad/Next) reviewed the graduation exposition of our students at Sandberg Institute’s Master Vacant NL. This is the first program in the world that focuses on the potential of ”temporary use” of empty architecture. Working on-site, the graduates unlock the affordances of vacant building with novel interventions. Their projects present opportunities for sequential temporary use (hopping from building to building) and provide users with unorthodox tools to colonize vacant cultural heritage, thousands of unique, goverment-owned buildings. Read the review here (click to zoom in; the article is in Dutch).

See also a review (in Dutch) by journal de Architect.


Skinned by Jorien Kemerink at Looiersgracht 60, Amsterdam (photo: Rob ‘t Hart)

VIDI-grant awarded by Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)

Great news: Today I learned that I’ve been awarded a VIDI-grant! This means 5 years of fundamental research in philosophy and generous NWO-funding to develop my research group. Here is a short project description:

The Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embodied Mind

In many situations, experts at work act successfully, yet without deliberation. Architects, for example, perceive immediately the opportunities offered by the site of a new project, and intuitively improve the size of the door in one of their designs. One could label these manifestations of expert intuition as ‘higher-level’ cognition, but still these experts are just acting unreflectively. Traditionally in philosophy, so-called ‘higher’ cognitive capacities are associated more with explicit deliberation and linguistic forms of rationality than with unreflective action, but this has left unexplained the characteristic phenomenon of intuitive expertise (e.g. intuitively improving a design).


The two central ideas behind this NWO VIDI-proposal are (a) that many of these context-sensitive episodes of ‘higher’ cognition can be understood along the same lines as everyday skillful unreflective activities, such as grasping a coffee cup or riding a bike; and (b) that our surroundings contribute to skillful action and cognition in a far more fundamental way than is generally acknowledged.

My long term aim is to use these ideas to develop a novel conceptual framework for embodied or ‘enactive’ cognitive science (Thompson, 2007; Chemero, 2009). The cognition we find in expert intuition is very context-sensitive because it consists of responsiveness to multiple possibilities for action provided by our surroundings, or ‘affordances’. I argue that the notion of affordances is rich in application, so it makes sense to say both that a cup affords grasping and that a friend’s sad face affords comforting. Moreover, we are bodily responsive to a multiplicity of affordances simultaneously (Rietveld, 2012a/b). Embodied cognition amounts here to skillful responsiveness to the many affordances available in one’s surroundings; a selective responsiveness to a whole field of affordances.

This integrative, philosophical framework is innovative in showing how the increasingly influential field of embodied cognitive science has a much wider scope than previously thought. Findings thought to be exclusively valid for everyday unreflective action (or for sensorimotor behavior) can now be applied to skilled ‘higher’ cognition, or better, expert intuition (project 1). We will also show concrete, real-world applications in the domains of architecture (project 2) and psychiatry (project 3 on Deep Brain Stimulation), respectively. Interactions with renowned experts in these practices feed the development of the overall framework. Another project (4) will advance convergence with Karl Friston’s influential work on the anticipating brain, by situating the latter in the whole system ‘brain-body-landscape of affordances’.

Read more: interview with SMART Cognitive Science


Progress on plans for future research

I spent last summer writing two exciting new research proposals for fundamental work in philosophy of enactive/embodied cognition. These new ideas have been inspired by my experiences with embedded research in the worlds of architecture and psychiatry.

I have now been informed that my philosophical research proposals have been selected for the final rounds of both the ERC Starting Grant and NWO’s VIDI scheme for innovative research. The aim of these novels plans is showing how my understanding of embodied cognition as skillful responsiveness to the rich landscape of affordances offered by our surroundings opens up new perspectives for studying skillful ‘higher-level’ cognition and context-sensitivity, which are important open issues in enactive or embodied cognitive science. Central to the VIDI will be a new project on Deep Brain Stimulation and skilled intentionality.

Frontiers paper well read

Frontiers’ Journal Manager just wrote that our recent sketch on how the notion of a ‘landscape of affordances’ can help embodied cognitive science to deal with the difficult open issue of context-sensitivity is among their most downloaded articles. Download the PDF here:

Kiverstein, J. & Rietveld, E. (2012), Dealing with context through action-oriented predictive processingFrontiers in Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology 3 (421), pp. 1-2.

Rietveld Landscape on Frontiers: Industrial Jurassic

The image above shows how Rietveld Landscape deals with frontiers: the installation ‘Industrial Jurassic’ changes the local landscape of affordances temporarily, offering people the possibility to cross the border between Belgium and The Netherlands for one day.